Israeli police in riot gear clashed with Palestinians in al-Aqsa mosque compound on Friday morning after youths threw stones at the gate where officers were stationed. At least 31 Palestinians were wounded, including three journalists, when Israeli police stormed into the enclosure firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.
Violence at the highly sensitive site, sacred to Muslims and Jews, erupted despite Israel having suspended Jewish visits during the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Following this incident, Israel’s security presence was strengthened while tens of thousands of Muslims took part in noon and evening prayers on Ramadan’s third Friday.
This year, Ramadan coincides with the Jewish Passover and Christian Easter celebrations and thousands of adherents of the three faiths throng East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Al-Aqsa mosque is Islam’s third holiest site while the broad plateau on which it stands is venerated by Jews as the Temple Mount, the site of two ancient temples, the first destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians during a siege and the second in 70 AD by the Romans during a Jewish rebellion.
Jordan, custodian of Jerusalem's Muslim and Christian holy sites, and the Palestinians accuse Israel of restricting Muslim access while violating the long-standing "status quo agreement" governing the compound by providing police protection for rising numbers of religious Jews who enter the compound and violate prohibitions on Jewish prayer.
Arab and Muslim anger has been stoked by radical Israelis who have vowed to partition the compound or replace al-Aqsa and the splendid Dome of the Rock with a third Jewish temple.
Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police began last Friday, when 158 Palestinians and two Israelis were injured and violence continued throughout the week, prompting an angry response from Arab governments and organisations.
The Arab League called on Israel to halt permanently Jewish prayers in the compound, warning it could trigger all-out conflict. Following a League ministerial emergency meeting in Amman, Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi said, "Our demands are clear that al-Aqsa and Haram Al Sharif in all its area is a sole place of worship for Muslims."
The Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, which have normalised relations with Israel, have condemned Israel's action and the Emirates has cancelled the participation of its Whizz airline in aerial displays during the May 4th anniversary of Israel's establishment.
The Riyadh-based 27-member Organisation of Islamic Co-operation dispatched letters to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, UK, France, China and Russia – calling for action to halt Israeli attacks on Palestinian worshippers in the compound.
Palestinian Catholic priest Manuel Musallam urged Christians to join Muslims to protect the mosque compound. He said Christians must "affirm to Muslims that we all have one destiny and one civilisation, that we are one people in this holy land".
Arabs seek to avoid a repeat of last May’s 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza which killed 256 Palestinians and 13 in Israel, including one Indian and two Thais.